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What came first?
WindRestrictor® has made it’s name servicing finer cabriolets/convertibles with the highest quality wind blockers around. But, what do we know about this style automobile we’ve made our living from? What was the first American convertible? When did the hardtop take over, and why? Did the convertible ever make a comeback after falling off? Hopefully, we’ll be able to answer these questions and more in this blog post. Let’s salute the convertible! The car that made our founder’s dream possible! Visit our website here.
Did you know the first cars were all open? No roof, no windows, and no doors. They were in essence, motorized buggies. Offering a freer ride than its later offspring. But, less safety and ability to drive in all climates and weather. When the vehicle’s power was upped, the body changed to protect the driver and be more complimentary to the new engines. Retractable roofs and tops came into play to protect the driver and passenger from weather and road hazards down the line allowing the advent of mass motorized transportation via roadway. Imagine delivering produce in an open air car during a snowy January in Colorado. See my point?
Now we’ve learned the real question is, what was the first hardtop? In 1898 the Voiturette Type A (the first enclosed automobile) was created and a few years later in 1905 the Cadillac Osceola officially became the first American enclosed vehicle.
In 1906, Cadillac offered enclosed cars as a made-to-order option, after seeing the popularity of its new creation. Convertibles were still the more popular choice however for the next 15 years. In the 1920s enclosed bodies were starting to be mass produced, opening up the door for the average consumer to buy this exciting new vehicle. Of course this wasn’t the death of the convertible, but it slowly lost footing as being the top choice. The “hot” option was enclosed at the time. Much like the drop top is today.
The convertible was far from dead, however. The 1939 Plymouth (first power-operated convertible top) made it easier to raise and lower the top. Who can forget the Lincoln Continental Cabriolet of 1940s? The 1946 DeSoto defines the era with the rocket shaped body and classic hood ornament. This time was characterized once again by Cadillac as well. The Cadillac Series 62 was a big seller, manufacturing three different models throughout the 40s. Also, the Jeep CJ was brought to the civilian market after found to be a reliable vehicle for American Forces during WWII.
What follows is what many people consider to be the most classic era for convertibles of all time. The 50’s and 60’s brought a string of vehicles that are instantly recognizable to even casual motorists. Most of which are drop tops. The legendary Corvette was born in 1953. An American classic that’s still in style over 60 years later. Also, in 1953 the Buick Roadmaster Skylark became the latest entry in top-of-the-line limited edition convertibles. The Cadillac Eldorado was born in ’53 as well. 1955 brought about the first generation of the famous Ford Thunderbird. The classic Ford Fairlane is another 55er. The 50s birthed so many automotive legends, it would be hard to think of a decade more important for American convertibles. However, if it has any rival, this next decade could very well be it.
The 60s picked up right where the 50s left off. Two more classics were birthed, Camaro and Mustang. In 1964 the Ford Mustang was birthed and in 2014 celebrated its 50th year in production. The longevity of the 50s and 60s vehicles are unparalleled. Camaro coming later in 1967. Built to be direct competition to the popular Mustang. The Pontiac Firebird was manufactured in that same year. It stayed in production for some 35 years. Yet, another convertible rolled out in 1967, the Mercury Cougar. The Cougar is not known as a convertible by many drivers of this day and age. However, their convertibles were classic cool. A sleekly designed answer to the Mustang for Mercury. Speaking of Mercury, The Comet came out in the early 60s. The Dodge Dart as well. The classic Chevrolet Chevelle was yet another. The 1960s weren’t just revolutionary for socio-economic changes, it was a decade where convertible vehicles underwent production on a massive scale.
Like many other great things, the 1970s came around and the decline of the convertible was at hand. The fun loving time of the 50’s and 60’s out in the sun gave way to disco dancing at midnight. Of course, a few hold outs remained. The Eldorado was now marketed as the last great convertible. T-tops were popping up as a “smarter” convertible. Safety standards were raised in 1975 and the damage had been done. Everyone had a land barge or iron tank. I mean let’s face it, the 70s birthed The Pinto. Would anything of such style and elegance thrive in the age of Pintos and The Bee Gees? It didn’t look good.
Enter the 1980s. Some signs of life for our fabled cabriolets seemed to emerge. Chrysler reintroduced the convertible LeBaron in 1983. Also, in 83 Ford released the Ford Escort MKIII. A year later the Riviera introduced a largely forgotten (but nevertheless sharp looking) convertible of its own.It seemed new models were coming back to the forefront, slowly yet steadily. Every rebirth needs a new starting point. It seemed the 80s were this time for the automobiles we all knew and loved. The 90s would indeed be their triumphant return. Wouldn’t they?
Now the 90s could be defined as the decade of growing pains for convertibles. Sure, there’s a few new models out but would they capture the imagination of domestic car owners for years to come? Not so much.
At the beginning of 1990, the Dodge Dakota convertible was born. Was America ready for a truck with no roof? No.
Admittedly though, the concept was original and it showed a move toward innovation. The 1990 Pontiac Sunbird/Geo Metro/Chevrolet Metro/Suzuki Swift (automotive schizophrenia anyone?) Was a fun little 2-door to cruise the streets in. Unfortunately, it barely made it out of the 90s getting pulled in 2000. One could argue though that a 10 year run for a vehicle type is a lot longer than most.Sales for the old standbys were doing great however. The Mustang Fourth Generation, Corvette C5, and Thunderbird were all doing well. As well as many imports. While not ideal, signs of life were certainly showing.
Don’t call it a comeback…
The new millennium was upon us! Bringing with it some exciting vehicles! The Cadillac continued its tradition of great convertibles with the XLR in 2003. The Kappa family of vehicles (Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, Daewoo G2X, and Opel GT) were exciting roadsters built by GM starting in 2006 with the Pontiac Solstice. Around the same time the Chrysler Crossfire (although technically built by a German corporation) hit the streets in 2005. Chrysler also built the first PT Cruiser two seat and four seat convertible in 2005. With these models on the road the future looked bright. Finally, some exciting new innovations! You know what happens next right? The economy happens. To be more precise, recession happens. GM teetered close to belly up pulling its Kappa line and the XLR nearly shutting its doors. Chrysler was also struggling at this time and pulled the PT Cruiser and Crossfire. Choosing to concentrate on everyday cars, their bread and butter. The big two were still in the game with the Corvette C6 and Mustang Fifth Generation. Those two seem to stay winning no matter the era. Ah the ups and downs
So, here we are a little over half way through the 2010s. Some good news remains, Camaro, Corvette, and Mustang are still around. The Corvette cranked out the beautiful C7, and the Mustang Sixth Generation is here. The Camaro went into Fifth Generation and is about to enter into Sixth Generation. Like most other decades, three stand proud. Will their soon be a fourth? Who knows. With technology being what it is, it seems that innovation beyond the American big three are inevitable. When the newest thing finally touches down. Rest assured, WindRestrictor® will be there with the latest model.
Next, we’ll cover the cabriolet scene from overseas. Please email me if you notice any important omissions on dates or names. Thinking about ordering? Use, code WRBlog and receive a 10% discount on your order. Thanks for reading!